Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp, with Jordie Bellaire on Colors
Publisher: Valiant Comics
Summary from Comixology: “On the fringes of civilization, the world’s first detective is about to make an unholy discovery…
Ruled by the Fates. Manipulated by the Gods. Commanded by Caesar. In the year 65 A.D., one’s destiny was not his own. At the height of Nero’s reign, a veteran of Rome’s imperial war machine has been dispatched to the farthest reaches of the colonies to investigate unnatural happenings… In the remote outpost of Britannia, Antonius Axia – the First Detective – will become Rome’s only hope to reassert control over the empire’s most barbaric frontier…and keep the monsters that bridge the line between myth and mystery at bay…
From comics mastermind Peter Milligan (X-Statix, Shade the Changing Man) and incendiary artist Juan Jose Ryp (NINJAK, Clone) comes a psychological journey into terror, temptation, and bloodshed – presented in an all-new prestige format limited series!”
Ever since Valiant announced their (at the time) forthcoming new wave of comic series’ at this years Valiant Summit a few months ago, Britannia was the one I most anticipated. Admittedly, It was Juan Jose Ryp’s involvement that most excited me because he’s quickly become one of my absolute favorite comic artists just within the last year. His style is so visceral and detailed, and there is no one who can capture violence and brutality the way he can.
So after seeing Ryp involved I check out the premise. “The world’s first detective”? I mean, what does that even look like? I barely understand what detectives do NOW, let alone what the very first one would have done. It’s intriguing to say the least. There were no hints to the greater Valiant Universe that I couple pick out, so I was also curious how it fit in. After finally reading the whole first issue for myself, I can confidently say that even though I still don’t know where it fits in the Valiant Universe, it might be my favorite thing Valiant has put out in I-don’t-know-how-long.
Peter Milligan is one of those writers who does a ton of great work, but seems to mostly fly under the radar. In addition to (probably) writing every major Valiant character at some point in the past, he’s also done phenomenal work for Marvel and DC (go read his 5 Ronin series immediately), as well put out some great original series’ like The Discipline (Image) and New Romancer (Vertigo).
Britannia feels like a whole different beast than anything he’s done before (with *maybe* the closest thing being his brief run on The Eternal Warrior). To be honest, Britannia isn’t like anything that Valiant has even done before. It reads more like a creator-owned, independent series. The way it blends actual history and sci-fi/fantasy is incredibly brilliant, and the amount of mystery is perfect for keeping you hanging on without revealing too much.
The character interactions feel very natural, with the most compelling, in my opinion, being between Axia (our protagonist) and his servant/slave Bran. They have a very interesting relationship because Bran seems as if he’s a good friend to Axia, but he’s still very much aware of his place. I love how Milligan handles this. They’re like buddies, but also not because one of them is, essentially, a captive. I’m eager to see how their dynamic evolves over the rest of the issues.
I know I’ve already fanboyed all over JJR, but really, the guy’s artwork is flawless and beautiful. Beautiful in the way a lion stalks, attacks, and consumes a gazelle, kind of. It’s pure, and raw. There’s a panel (above) at the beginning where Axia and his soldiers just slaughter a group of cultists who kidnapped a girl and were going to sacrifice her. The way he depicts the blades tearing through the men, and the look on Axis’s face… it’s just so… satisfying.
Comic art often feels sterilized nowadays and I like that Ryp doesn’t filter himself. He puts every bit of who he is into that art and it’s the most magnificent middle finger to the mainstream, cookie-cutter bulls**t.
Additionally, Jordie Bellaire’s colors on this are just fantastic. I can’t think of a comic colorist who better nails the tone of the story with their color-work. The beautiful parallels of those reds and greens you see in these preview pages are amazing. With those two colors being used it should look like a Christmas theme but it doesn’t all. It’s menacing and dark.
One thing I’ll mention is… OK, so this book is rated “12+”. The thing about that is… there’s some elements at play here, and some situations that I can’t imagine most 12-year-old’s are mature enough for. Hell, I’M barely mature enough for it. As a parent who let his 9-year-old watch JAWS, I probably still wouldn’t be comfortable with him reading this comic at 12. Maybe… 14 or 15? I don’t believe in censorship of any kind, but I do think we do a disservice to our children by letting them consume stories with mature content sooner than they’re able to appreciate what it means to the plot. Like, yes, there’s a naked lady, but why is she naked and does it serve the story realistically or with a motivating purpose? What does the nudity mean? Not that it has to have a reason, but reason gives the story meaning.
Look, no judgement whatsoever if you do feel your adolescent child is mature enough to handle some of the themes in this book. Just wanted to put out a little PSA for parents who potentially might not know.
I loved Britannia #1. It’s easily a 5 star issue, and may be my favorite single-issue Valiant comic of the year. I’m very much looking-forward to where this story goes, and seeing how Axia navigates the mystery. If you’ve never read a Valiant comic, read this. I promise you it stands out from anything else the publisher has ever put out, and you don’t need any backstory or context to understand.
Britannia #1 is on comic shop shelves tomorrow, or you can get it digitally by clicking the Comixology link at the top of the page.
Music Pairing –
I jammed the new Heaven Shall Burn album, “Wanderer”, while reading this and it felt very right.